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Back to the nights

Posted Mar 19 2013 9:31am
I completed my first tour of night shifts since my unfortunate period of illness and trauma last year. It took me a few shifts to get into it again, and my sleep pattern was erratic at best to begin with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the run and actually dealt with some genuine (and genuinely nice) patients.

However, my first night kicked off with a call I'd rather not have gone to. A 1 month old baby with respiratory failure. She'd stopped breathing due to a genetic condition, and her mother and sister were taking care of her when we arrived. There was a motorcycle paramedic (MRU) on scene and we got the story from him when we entered the little flat.

The baby was breathing again (albeit inefficiently) but had stopped several times prior to the 999 call. She is in such poor shape that it is unlikely she will have much of a future, if any at all. This type of call always makes me feel very down, especially as I am a parent myself. I have a lot of admiration for people who struggle through with very unwell children and still manage to keep a smile on their faces.

We took her to hospital while supporting her breathing all the way. We had been diverted to this from a nonsense call way out in the opposite direction; if it hadn't been for the common sense and good judgement of whoever was despatching us at the time, we'd have been attending a fully grown up woman who was 'not talking' instead.

Tonight was all about alcohol for a good few hours. In fact, our next patient - a drunken female at an underground station, had such strong alcoholic breath that I could still smell it on my uniform hours after we'd taken her to hospital for her own good. This was swiftly followed by a 40 year-old man, found lying among the rubbish bags in the street. A MOP had called us because he was worried about him and he was right - the guy would have been left all night and ignored for the most part, until he was finally taken in unconscious with hypothermia.

He was drunk of course, but he was a gentle drunk. A man with a learning disability and no clue where he was or how he ended up on the pavement. This made him vulnerable but he knew that and when I spoke to him later, when he was in his hospital cubicle and sobering up, he agreed.

It was almost certain that I would get assaulted at some point during this weekend; the number of aggressive drunks and angry people around made it inevitable if we were to get involved with them at any point. So I wasn't really shocked when I was punched a few times by a fist-swinging patient who'd allegedly taken 60 codeine in an attempt to kill herself. I got hit on the way down the stairs of the hostel, as police officers attempted to keep her off me, and hit again in the ambulance as a reward for trying to sit her down safely.

I say she, but I mean he/she. It was the first time I'd ever been assaulted by a six-foot transgender patient.

In the early hours of the morning we set off, on blue lights and sirens (because it was an emergency call) for a 90 year-old bed-bound man who woke up and realised he hadn't switched his TV off! Incredibly, we were allowed to go all the way there before it became clear (even though it was to us) to everyone else, that the call was about switching off his TV for him and no more. To add insult to injury, there was a 24-hour concierge on the front desk of the apartment block when we arrived. So he was tasked with the job and we returned to whatever normality we'd be allowed to resume...

...Until a drunken 25 year-old female fell down steps in a night club and split her eyelid open, deep enough to reveal the bone of the orbit. She wasn't knocked out and she was lucid enough, so she went for cleaning and closure.

The last call took us a long way out to tend the needs of an old woman who was 'vomiting'. She lived with a strange man in a strange, unkempt house. In front of a fully-functioning three-bar electric fire, she retched her way through explanations of illness as the man stood over her, patting her on the back in that 'I really don't want to touch you' way that you sometimes see when people are trying to be sympathetic but either don't have the practice or don't know what else to do.

She continued to retch and cough, but never vomited. And when she was preparing to come to hospital with us, she requested her teeth, and the strange man duly obliged, fishing them out of a cup with his fingers. Then he lost them on the grubby carpet for a time and they had to be retrieved by the FRU paramedic who had arrived ahead of us. He gingerly picked them up and handed them to the woman. Now she could smile if she wished, and her carpet debris could smile with her.

She retched all the way to hospital and stopped as soon as we arrived.

More to come from this tour...

Be safe.

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